What we’ve done
Translating Cisco’s expertise for customers
‘Cisco don’t sell socks. We’re in the business of sophisticated technology and complex ideas.’ So says Michael Lenz, former Global Director of Experience Design at Cisco. But Cisco’s language was complex too, and it was turning customers off. How do you get all that expertise across in a way that’s easy to understand, and distinct from the competition?
We partnered with their brand experience team to roll out a full-scale language programme across their 60,000-strong business. That’s a mix of consultancy, writing and training over the past few years, to make every bit of Cisco communication a great experience for customers. When the new style went live on Cisco’s website:
- bounce-rates halved
- click-throughs more than doubled
- time-on-page went up by a third
- 29% liked it more
- 7% trusted Cisco more
- 12% were persuaded more by Cisco’s writing.
‘These examples are just a hint of hundreds of instances where our new voice is making a difference.’
Good writing sells: and we’ve got the proof
We teamed up with Nielsen and two well-known FMCG brands, let’s call them Soothe and Sport, to test the impact of good writing. We wanted to see if we could take a new product from a failure to a success purely by writing about it differently.
We got our hands on one product concept each for Soothe and Sport. They’d already run the concepts through testing and both had got the worst possible result: ‘probable failure’.
We rewrote them both in three ways: one neutral, one in the Soothe tone of voice, one in the Sport tone of voice.
This is what we found:
- Good writing makes a disproportionately big difference.
Our best-performing concept doubled the overall result of the previous version. (And each concept only took us about 20 minutes to rewrite.)
- Loyal customers prefer writing that’s in the brand’s tone of voice.
The concept in the Soothe tone of voice was most popular with Soothe buyers.
- Clear writing beats concise writing.
Our best-performing concept was actually a little longer than the original. And a version we chopped right down ended up failing the clarity part of the test.
- Metaphors work.
As part of the testing, people had to click anything they particularly liked. The phrase that got the most love was this: The clay inside acts like a sponge.
- People need to know what ingredients are for.
The original Soothe concept talked about moisturising cream and vitamin B3, but left it there. In our rewrites, we gave the benefits attached to those ingredients, and took the result for the ‘credibility’ scale from bottom marks to top marks.
- You can explain away people’s worries.
The Sport product contains clay. After the original test, people were worried it would stain their clothes and clog their pores. In our versions, we named those worries and explained why they were unfounded. Nobody had any worries about the clay.
- Good writing makes a disproportionately big difference.
How we helped Axe grow up and stand out
By 2016, Axe’s brand had passed its sell-by date. The lads’ mags had died and men had changed from sex-obsessed cavemen to sophisticated gentlemen. It was time for Axe to change with them. We helped them change the way they write. We gave them a more sophisticated tone of voice with a touch of Axe wit, but banned anything smutty. The result? Consistent language that helps them stand out from the crowd.
After coming up with the tone of voice, we trained Axe’s people and agencies to use it, and wrote product claims and packaging for their entire range of 50-odd new products. We also came up with a naming system and used it to make all their new names distinctively Axe.
The rebrand was covered in the Huff Post, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Campaign, Design Week and the Drum, and the reception’s been overwhelmingly positive. The Guardian article quotes Joel Windels, vice president of marketing at Brandwatch, as saying: “The positivity we saw [for this campaign] is incredibly rare.”
'The Writer helped us find our own magic. They created a whole new way with words that sets us apart from the crowd, and perfectly captures what we’re all about.'
Changing the way 8,000 people write and simplifying hundreds of products into six.
Seven years ago, BT set us a challenge: help change the language of thousands of people in danger of sounding like a government department, to that of a modern – even human – global IT business. So they’ve had the full monty: training for 8,000 people worldwide; a squadron of champions; award-winning email ‘nudges’ to keep them at it; even emergency rewriting. And our programme’s still going strong, transforming linguistically challenged corners of the business, and racking up cost savings in the millions.
And like most big tech companies, BT Global Services had a huge portfolio of disparately named products and services that were confusing to customers and salespeople alike. Seeing an opportunity to boldly go where none of their competitors had gone before, they gave us another brief: ‘Make us famous for a few, big things’.
So out went the iVPN2, SIP Trunking and NGCC, and in came a simple set of six product families like BT Connect, BT Contact and BT One. To help tell the story, each family got its own supporting line like ‘Networks that think’.
'Once you get people thinking about how their writing builds the brand, they begin to understand their personal, individual responsibility for creating the brand we want to be. If that isn't culture change, I don't know what is.'
How to stand out and stay sharp, twice
O2 have always had a distinctive brand. Back in 2007, their tranquil bubbles and calm shades of blue stood out from a crowd of phone companies with busier brands. The only thing was, O2's words were in the same chatty tone as everyone else's. Our work with O2 changed all that. We created a calm, clear tone of voice to complement the visuals (as well as Sean Bean's dulcet tones). And the rest of the sector had to change tack to keep up. Then in 2013, we did it again.
Making sure O2's language had as much energy as their 'be more dog' campaign and brand refresh, we've worked hard to keep standards high. Between us we've:
- trained over 3,000 people, from engineers and the CFO to marketing and O2's agencies
- set up daily calls to sense check writing going out right now
- run a weekly brand clinic to keep their writing as bang on-brand as possible
- worked with O2's other agencies. The brand team gets us together to make sure we're all staying true to their language right across the board
'Brilliant! Again, a game-changer for us.'
How do you sum up a 140-year old brand in 104 words?
Vaseline is one of the world’s most recognised brands, going all the way back to the original ‘wonder jelly’ discovered by chemist Robert Chesebrough in 1870. More than 140 years, several product lines and various campaigns later, the team at Vaseline wanted to go back to the brand’s roots to recapture what made it special in the first place.
So we got the Vaseline team and their agencies together in a room in New York City, where we spent a day helping them first to decide what they wanted to say, and then how to say it in a way that would inspire people. No brand onions or infographics, just a simple 104-word story that captured the spirit of this iconic brand. By helping the team tell the story themselves, rather than going away and doing it for them, we were able to get it done and signed off in record time. The story has given the brand a new focus, and a unique vocabulary that’s making its way into campaigns around the world and onto packs on a shelf near you.